Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back to the schoolhouse

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Texas Appleseed report on school districts farming out their disciplinary problems to the criminal (in)justice system. It seems as if at least one state legislator, Armando Walle (D-Houston) paid attention to the report.

According to the Texas Tribune, Rep. Walle has introduced three bills regarding the ticketing of school children. One would allow students to pay their fines through community service or tutoring. The others would require school districts to keep data on the citations issued to students and would require school districts to offer specialized training for officers.

While these bills may be a first step in the right direction - they fall far short of fixing the problem.

If we are going to allow our schools to place juveniles in the criminal (in)justice system for misbehavior on campus, it should only happen for specific offenses such as fighting and possessing weapons or drugs.Disrupting class is much too vague a concept for a student to face criminal charges. Disrupting class is something that should be handled on campus through a suspension or detention program.

Fighting, on the other hand, is an actual criminal offense; as are possessing weapons or drugs.

Rep. Walle's proposals also fail to address the burden placed on parents when a school issues a citation to their child. A parent is required to accompany the child to court (while school is in session). Should the child be required to perform community service, the parents will be required to drive the child there and back again. If a fine is levied, guess who will be opening up the checkbook?

What happens if both parents work? What if one parent stays at home with younger children or older parents? The parent didn't do anything - yet the parent is being punished.

It is time we stop the outsourcing of discipline by schools. It's time school districts disclose to parents the consequences of ticketing students for disciplinary problems. It's time we stop looking for excuses to force people into the criminal (in)justice system.

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